HC Deb 02 July 1951 vol 489 cc1880-2
20. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the concern of the travelling public at the decline in safety standards in the Western Region of British Railways since nationalisation, due to the alteration and modification of the pre-nationalised Great Western Railway arrangements for automatic signalling and train control; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Barnes

I have seen references in the Press to local representations by the footplate staff of the Western Region, who are objecting to certain recent changes. I am, however, satisfied, on the advice of the inspecting officers of railways, that there has been no relaxation of the necessary standards of safety and that there is no cause for apprehension by the travelling public. The automatic train control system of the old Great Western Railway Company has not been altered, and the wider extension of automatic train control of an improved type, which is now under large-scale experiment, has been accepted as desirable by the British Transport Commission.

Mr. Nabarro

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House the assurance that no decline in signalling and train control standards will be permitted in the near future, particularly in view of an allegation by the Great Western men which reads: Reckless and inefficient administration under nationalisation has impaired the efficiency of the Western Region of British Railways.

Mr. Barnes

If the hon. Member reads my reply, I think he will find that the assurance is quite specific, but I should emphasise that the inspecting staff of my Department are entirely responsible to the Ministry, and are in no way subject to Railway Executive or Transport Commission influence or directions.

Mr. Llewellyn

Is the Minister aware that over 1,000 railwaymen have signed a petition, and is he suggesting that his views are right and that the views of 1,000 railwaymen are wrong?

Mr. Barnes

I am not suggesting that my views are right at all, but what I am giving here is the considered judgment of my railway inspecting officers, who are very familiar with these matters, and I would rather not comment on views that may dissent from them.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is the Minister aware that some Western Region drivers contend that the higher accident rate on the old L.M.S. than on the Great Western in pre-war days was due to the rule regarding speed restrictions on that railway, which has now become standard for all railways?

Mr. Barnes

No, I am not aware of that.

Mr. George Thomas

Has the Minister received any official representations on this matter from the union concerned?

Mr. Barnes

I could not say off-hand, but I do know that this is the subject of more or less continuous examination by the railway unions and the railway managements. Also, my own inspecting officers examine every proposed change. They are an independent technical body and contribute to the discussions. In so far as inquiry is more or less continuous, I do not like to give a direct negative.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you will be good enough to take note of this Question as being the useful prototype of the kind of Questions which the Minister has refused in the past, but which we are all delighted to see on the Order Paper?

Mr. Barnes

Further to that point of order. This question affects the railway inspectorate department of my Ministry and, therefore, raises a different issue from matters of management by the Transport Commission.

Mr. Speaker

If the noble Lord was making any reflection on the way in which Questions are selected by the Chair, that is out of order. I think the Minister has put it quite clearly.